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Nigeria’s biggest security crisis is its huge population, Prof. Odinkalu warns

NIGERIA’s biggest security crisis is not the terrorist group, Boko Haram, but her increasingly overwhelming population size, Chidi Odinkalu, a human rights activist, writer, and professor of law, has cautioned.

He made this point during an interview session with The ICIR on Thursday and stressed the need to reduce the country’s average fertility rate while also improving productivity.

The 1988 National Population Policy enacted during the regime of Ibrahim Babangida, Odinkalu recalled, promotes the idea that average family size should have room for a maximum of four children. “What happened to that population policy?” he wondered.

In January, Al-Hassan Ado-Doguwa, the majority leader of the House of Representatives showcased his four wives during a plenary session and bragged about having 27 children “—and still counting”.

“It is not an exception,” Odinkalu noted.

“Jigawa’s average fertility rate per woman is 8.3. And in the Northwest, it is just under 8.1. In the Northeast, it is about 7.9. In Lagos, average fertility per woman is now 4.09. Now, what is the difference? In much of Lagos, many of those people will be families of one husband, wife, and four children.

“In much of these other places, average fertility per woman is not average family size. So, when a man can marry four women with average fertility of seven, that gives you 28 children.”

He argued that anti-corruption efforts cannot be sustained with such large family sizes because it will be difficult for parents to live off their legitimate income and still cater adequately for their children’s needs.

“You have to start with responsible parenting and responsible family sizes and the government has a role in that,” he said.

“Right now, at some levels of dialogue, you see that some people think that population and poverty can be weaponised for the purposes of achieving political control, that you can give birth to any number of children you want without looking after them and every four years weaponise them for the purposes of controlling power.

“And that is irresponsible because the first set of people as we are discovering who will be damaged by that are the same people who are weaponising population and poverty.”

Odinkalu exhorted leaders in the northern region to have open-minded conversations about population size.

“It’s a very delicate conversation but it has to be had,” he said. “Why do I say so? Right now, that is Nigeria’s biggest national security threat. It is not Boko Haram.”

The rights activist added that Nigeria should brace for a storm in the next 20 to 25 years when its population will have doubled.

A report released by the UN Population Division last year confirmed that the country’s population is expected to double to over 400 million by 2050, at which time it will have overtaken the United States as the third-most populous place.

With oil as a diminishing source of revenue as Nigeria’s major buyers look elsewhere, a different source of revenue will be needed and, for Odinkalu, this can only be human capital, harnessed especially through taxation.

“But we are not investing in our people now so that they will be available to be taxed in 20, 25 years,” he lamented.

“So that means per capita, the likelihood is that GDP is on a downward curve while our population is a massive upward curve. Our population is growing at between 2.6 to 2.8 per cent per annum. Our economy has flatlined at around 1 per cent per annum. That means we have a crisis of demand and supply. We have more mouths than we can produce to feed. Yet, that crisis of demand and supply is going to keep compounding.

“Today, we’ve been borrowing. We’ve been running into recurrent deficits for over five years. That means we’ve been borrowing to fund our own budget and borrowing for capital expenditure. We cannot improve our infrastructure and we are barely 200 million. We are not building new schools, so we cannot absorb the numbers of kids coming through, and we are not training new teachers.

“We cannot build new roads without debt that is prohibited. So the question is how are we going to absorb… where is our elasticity to take all of these new kids? That’s the challenge. And if the leadership does not face off to this now, there may be nobody in 25 years to turn out the lights.”

In the interview, Odinkalu also described President Muhammadu Buhari administration as a dismal failure and said, though he is the first person to be elected president on the slogan of change, he has so far not delivered on his promises.

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